Opinion: Michigan education policies must be tactical and bipartisan

Pamela Hornberger

As a former educator and school board trustee, it is an honor to lead the Michigan House Education Committee and help implement necessary reforms to better prepare our students for successful futures.

Significant changes must be made to improve Michigan’s education performance. Michigan education is ranked at the bottom nationally and it is time to shake things up. Over the next two years I will work with my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to focus on literacy, mental health support, calendar flexibility, accountability and prioritized funding to best meet the needs of our students.

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy teacher Shauntay Frazier adjusts the desks in her classroom.

Our predecessors laid the groundwork for literacy improvement by crafting and implementing our third grade reading laws. Seeing these policies in practice we now know they can be improved to work more effectively for our students. We can start by providing literacy coaches who will support our teachers and our struggling students. The more literacy support we can provide at the elementary level the better foundation our students will have for all of their future learning success.

I believe we need to re-examine retention as a part of the law. We also need to find a balance between adult accountability and end-rounding the law, and students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. The practice of holding students back is harmful and studies show it can be incredibly damaging for their future. Also, the practice of having no accountability in place for many of our laws governing education has been incredibly harmful for Michigan education as a whole and damaging to our state’s future in so many areas. If we work together I know we can create targeted and effective solutions.

Our students need more mental health support in school. We need to ensure schools have the resources to provide support on an ongoing basis. When I started teaching my school district had numerous counselors, social workers and school psychologists. By the time I left education to join the legislature that support was very limited, at a time when students and families needed it most.

As we have recognized literacy as a key to student success, we need to recognize mental health support as a key to the success of our students and our schools. School districts that offer on-site mental health services provide a significant benefit to students and their families. These services can result in educational and behavioral improvements for students and if used effectively I believe will provide significant cost savings to school districts and our state as a whole.

Recently our schools and administrators have faced a serious challenge in the wake of extreme weather conditions. Our administrators should never be put in a position where they must risk a child’s safety in order to meet classroom time quotas. We must allow for more calendar flexibility at the local level. I believe removing all restriction to the school calendar will do just that. That is why I enrolled HB 4368, which will allow local school boards to determine their own date for the first day of school. Each school district is different and what works for them may not work for a district two hundred miles away. Local school boards should be allowed to craft a calendar that best suits the needs of their students and their community.

Finally, it is of the utmost importance that we work together in a bipartisan fashion to prioritize education funding so that each and every dollar is spent efficiently and with purpose. Dollars stretch much further and have a far greater impact when we are tactical about spending. I have spoken often with my Democratic colleagues, and not surprisingly, we agree more than we disagree when it comes to what is best for Michigan students. Our common goal is to bring quality education to each and every one of our students regardless of their educational path. I am optimistic about our committee and what we will achieve and I know we have what it takes to come together in the name of our state’s most precious resource — our children.

State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, represents Michigan's 32nd District.